Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Scientists are growing increasingly worried about the policy response to climate change

Top climate scientists from around the world are gathering in Copenhagen on 10-12 March to call attention to the growing sense of urgency arising from recent scientific findings. Media coverage of the event has highlighted the scientific community’s increasing fear that currently planned mitigation measures may not be enough to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.

This has led to some scientists advocating a serious look into ‘Plan B’ options, such as geoengineering (that is, the deliberate manipulation of the Earth’s natural processes to reduce the impacts of climate change). For example, an article in the latest Foreign Affairs discusses the opportunities and risks of geoengineering, and concludes that ‘It is time to take geoengineering out of the closet [...] so that the nations of the world can collectively decide whether to raise the shield if they think the planet needs it.’

While geoengineering may provide hopes for solving the climate change problem, it is unlikely to provide a ‘magic bullet’ solution. Investments into combating climate change should be based on sober cost-effectiveness analysis that ensures most ‘bang for a buck’ for public expenditure. Such a policy would most likely include a mix of mitigation, adaption and possibly geoengineering measures.

New research since the IPCC’s two-year old assessment report has suggested that climate change may be progressing faster than previously thought, casting doubt on the feasibility of the current policy response. This week’s meeting in Copenhagen is a welcome reminder of the magnitude of the challenge.

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